Digging through the bag of fabric paint, she knows exactly what she’s looking for. The body of the unicorn gets turquoise blue in swirling dabs, while the mane, tail and tiny hooves are carefully added with small, precise strokes of bright pink. Next, the horn and three music notes are added in dark purple.
Smiling, she dips a slim brush into a glob of sparkly gold and begins adding dots around the large black lettering of her band name, “Punk Rock Unicorn.”
“This looks so good,” she says.
She doesn’t ask what I think.
She doesn’t worry if her bandmates will like it.
She loves it.
“Can you paint my nails?” she asks. “Some blue and some pink. Oh, and with gold tips!”
I say yes, but I struggle to make it happen. The main color doesn’t reach the edge of every nail, and the gold tips are uneven.
“Sorry,” I say.
“They are perfect,” she says while wiggling her fingers in front of her face. “Thank you!”
It’s time to leave for her band’s show, the culmination of a week of Girls Rock Camp. She is wearing her favorite leggings, a faded swirling galaxy of pink and purple with visible holes in the knees. Her hair isn’t brushed and it’s matted in the back where she slept on it wet.
“Are you sure you don’t want to wear a sparkly skirt and brush your hair? Maybe add some color?”
“I look fine mom,” she says. “I’m comfortable.”
I want to fight her.
I want her to care more about how she looks.
I want her to look more put together.
But there she is, my Punk Rock Unicorn, smiling at me without any hesitation at all, while I changed my outfit several times and still wasn’t happy with my own reflection in the mirror.
This is all I’ve ever wanted for my girl, to be unapologetically herself, to not shrink for anyone, and to rock everything she does without fear or doubt.
Her confident smile is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
At the show, I watch her and all the girls playing instruments and singing with a reckless joy I don’t know I’ve ever felt in my life.
They are brave, free and strong.
They are working together, not in competition, lifting and rising as one.
I’m so happy for them…until I’m not.
Something inside starts churning up, this voice of perfectionism and criticism.
Why is my girl singing so quietly? She isn’t smiling and doesn’t look as confident as some of the others. Why did she act shy when she was given a compliment? I’m sure it’s my fault, something I’m doing wrong. I’m ruining this perfect girl.
After the show, she runs to me and hugs me hard. She has bright blue eye makeup and sparkly lip gloss her coach put on her backstage. Her arms feel strong and solid.
“Did you have fun?” I ask her.
“Yes!” she says.
“How come you looked so shy up there? Why weren’t you smiling more?”
The words come tumbling out before I can stop them. I recognize this voice, the very same one sabotaging my writing and stopping me from doing anything I might fail it.
I don’t want it to be her voice.
I search her face, looking for any trace of damage my words may have caused.
“What do you mean?” she says.
Her face is as radiant as ever.
“I’m very proud of you,” I say. “You really rocked it up there! It looked so fun. I bet you are proud.”
“Thanks,” she says. “I am!”
She melts into me, the warmth of her body like a blanket soothing my critical voices and giving me another chance.
Always another chance.
I remember her plan to have her bandmates and coaches sign her shirt.
“People are starting to leave,” I say. “Did you still want to get signatures?”
“Yes,” she says and runs off to borrow a pen.
I watch her go and make it happen for herself.
Her confidence isn’t loud or boastful, but calm and careful.
She gently taps friends and coaches, asking them to sign her shirt, standing still as they do.
I see many are holding the tiny pink unicorn erasers she spent an hour digging out of the bins in her room, the ones she so thoughtfully brought for them all.
My heart nearly bursts.
This girl is everything.
After the show, we head to dinner and she gives the waitress one of the teeny unicorn erasers, a light pink one with a purple mane and tail.
“Did you see her smile?” she says. “I think she liked it.”
“Yes,” I say. “You make everyone smile, just by being you.”
*For more information about Girls Rock Sacramento visit http://www.girlsrocksacramento.com